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The Data Crunchers Are Invading Hollywood - Numbers Analysis Comes To The Screenplay

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act May 6, 2013 at 11:04PM

When my father, who was an engineer, would repeatedly say to me, as a kid, "math is everywhere," I'm not sure this is what he had in mind.
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Hollywood Sign

When my father, who was an engineer, would repeatedly say to me, as a kid, "math is everywhere," I'm not sure this is what he had in mind.

On the heels of Steven Soderbergh's sobering State of Hollywood Cinema keynote speech last week, as well as my repost of Esquire's Relativity Media/Ryan Kavenaugh "Mathematics Of Movie-making" profile, comes this piece published on the New York Times' website yesterday, titled Solving Equation of a Hit Film Script, With Data.

Here's how it begins:

Forget zombies. The data crunchers are invading Hollywood. The same kind of numbers analysis that has reshaped areas like politics and online marketing is increasingly being used by the entertainment industry. Now, the slicing and dicing is seeping into one of the last corners of Hollywood where creativity and old-fashioned instinct still hold sway: the screenplay. A chain-smoking former statistics professor named Vinny Bruzzese — “the reigning mad scientist of Hollywood,” in the words of one studio customer — has started to aggressively pitch a service he calls script evaluation. For as much as $20,000 per script, Mr. Bruzzese and a team of analysts compare the story structure and genre of a draft script with those of released movies, looking for clues to box-office success. His company, Worldwide Motion Picture Group, also digs into an extensive database of focus group results for similar films and surveys 1,500 potential moviegoers. 

And if you're thinking that there's no way any studio exec would pay the $20,000 fee for Mr Bruzzese's service, think again. According to the New York Times piece, some already are; and not only are they using his service, they've done so with success.

Already they have quietly hired Mr. Bruzzese’s company to analyze about 100 scripts, including an early treatment for “Oz the Great and Powerful,” which has taken in $484.8 million worldwide.

Naturally, screenwriters aren't too thrilled with this development, and intrusion into their creative process.

“This is my worst nightmare” said Ol Parker, a writer whose film credits include “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” “It’s the enemy of creativity, nothing more than an attempt to mimic that which has worked before. It can only result in an increasingly bland homogenization, a pell-mell rush for the middle of the road.”

That's funny; I thought we were already there! Or certainly very close to getting there.

And while Bruzzese's $20,000 service isn't yet an industry standard, it seems to have legs...

But ignore it at your peril, according to one production executive. Motion Picture Group, of Culver City, Calif., analyzed the script for “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” said the executive, who worked on the film, but the production companies that supplied it to 20th Century Fox did not heed all of the advice. The movie flopped. 


The profile goes on to say that studios have cut spending on internal script development, and with increased movie-making stakes, they rely even more on research like that provided by Bruzzese's company, which takes the guesswork out of the process (although not entirely), and minimizes risk.

By the way, those of you in TV and on Broadway, look out, because Bruzzese plans to take his service to Broadway and television as well, now that he has traction in the movie business.

You can read the full New York Times piece HERE.


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